Ronald Reagan

National Affairs Campaign Address on Religious Liberty (Abridged)

delivered 22 August 1980, Dallas Reunion Arena, Dallas, Texas


[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Our two good governors who are here; Dr. Criswell, Reverend Chairman, and ladies and gentlemen here on the platform; and you, ladies and gentlemen:

You know, a few days ago, I addressed a group in Chicago and received their endorsement for my candidacy. Now, I know this is a non-partisan gathering, and so I know that you canít endorse me, but I only brought that up because I want you to know that I endorse you and what you're doing.

Since the start of my presidential campaign, I and many others have felt a new vitality in American politics -- a fresh sense of purpose, a deeper feeling of commitment is giving new energy and new direction to our public life. You are the reason. Religious America is awakening perhaps just in time for our countryís sake. Iíve seen the impact of your dedication. I know the sincerity of your intent, and Iím deeply honored to be with you here tonight. You know, Iím told that throughout history, man has adopted about four billion laws. Itís always seemed to me, however, that in all that time and with all those laws, we havenít improved by one iota on the Ten Commandments.

Today, you and I are meeting at a time when traditional Judeo-Christian values based on the moral teaching of religion are undergoing what is perhaps their most serious challenge in our nationís history. Nowhere is the challenge to traditional values more pronounced or more dangerous than in the area of public policy debate. So itís fitting that the topic of our meeting should be national affairs, for it is precisely in the affairs of our nation where the challenge to those values is the greatest.

In recent years, weíve seen a new and cynical attack on the part of those who would seek to remove from our public policy debate the voice of traditional morality. This tactic seeks not only to discredit traditional moral teachings, but also to exclude them from public debate by intimidation and name-calling, as we were so eloquently told a short time ago.1 We have all heard a charge that whenever those with traditional religious values seek to contribute to public policy, they're attempting to impose their views on others. Weíre told that any public policy approach incorporating traditional values is out of bounds.

This is a matter that transcends partisan politics. It demands the attention of every American regardless of party. If we have come to a time in the United States when the attempt to see traditional moral values reflected in public policy leaves one open to irresponsible charges, then the structure of our free society is under attack and the foundation of our freedom is threatened. 

Under the pretense of separation of Church and State, religious beliefs cannot be advocated in many of our public institutions -- but atheism can. You know, Iíve often had a fantasy: Iíve thought of serving an atheist a delicious gourmet dinner and then asking he or she whether they believed there was a cook.

When I hear the First Amendment used as a reason to keep traditional moral values away from policy making, Iím shocked. The First Amendment was written not to protect the people and their laws from religious values, but to protect those values from government tyranny. This is what Madison meant when he drafted the Constitution and that precious First Amendment. This is what the state legislatures meant when they ratified it. And this is what a long line of Supreme Court decisions have meant. But over the last two or three decades, the federal government seems to have forgotten both that old time religion and that old time Constitution.

[At at this juncture, the video is cut at source for an unknown duration.]

In our own country, we can get our house back in order. The drugs that ravage the young, the street crimes that terrorize the elderly, these are not necessary parts of life. Despite some -- Despite some intolerable court decisions, we do not have to forever tolerate the pornography that defaces our neighborhoods, or -- or the permissiveness that permeates our schools. We can break the yolk of poverty by unleashing Americaís economic power for growth and expansion, not by making anyone the perpetual ward of the State. We can cherish our aged, helping families to care for one another rather than driving their members into impersonal dependence upon government programs and government institutions.

When I made the decision to seek the presidency, I quoted one of those early colonists who landed on the Massachusetts shore, telling the little band with him that the eyes of all mankind were on them and that they could be as a shining "city upon a hill." Well the eyes of all mankind are still upon us, pleading with us to keep our rendezvous with destiny, to give hope to all who yearn for freedom and cherish human dignity. We have Godís promise that if we turn to him and ask his help, we shall have it. With his help, we can still become that shining city upon a hill.

Iíve always believed that every b[l]essing brings with it a responsibility, a responsibility to use that blessing wisely, to share it generously, and to preserve it for those who come after us. If we believe God has blessed America with liberty, then we have not just a right to vote, but a duty to vote. We -- We have not just the freedom to work in campaigns and run for office and comment on public affairs, we have a responsibility as youíve already been told -- again, so eloquently tonight -- to do so. That is the only way to preserve our blessings Ė extend them to others and hand them on to our children.

If you do not speak your mind and cast your ballots, then who will speak and work for the ideals we cherish? Who will vote to protect the American family and respect its interest in the formulation of public policy? Who, if not you and millions more like you, will vote to defend the defenseless and the weak, the very young, the poor, and the very old? When you stand up for your values, when you assert your civil rights to vote and to participate fully in government, youíre defending our true heritage of religious liberty. Youíre standing in the tradition of Roger Williams, Isaac Backus, and all the other dissenters who established for us the rights of religious conscience.

Much has changed since the Constitution guaranteed all Americans their religious liberty, but some things must never change. The perils our country faces today and will face in the 1980s seem unprecedented in their scope and consequences; but our response to them can be the response of men and women in any era who seek divine guidance in the policies of their government and the promulgation of their laws. When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, they were told that their government and laws must be models to other nations, showing to the world the wisdom and mercy of their God. To us, as to the ancient People of The Promise, there is given an opportunity: a chance to make our laws and government not only a model to mankind, but a testament to the wisdom and mercy of God. Let it be said of us -- Let it be said of us, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.

May I close on a personal note? I was asked once in a press interview what book I would choose if I were shipwrecked on an island and could have only one book for the rest of my life. I replied that I knew of only one book that could be read and re-read and continue to be a challenge: The Bible, The Old and New Testaments. I can only add to that, my friends, that I continue to look to the Scriptures today for fulfillment and for guidance. And indeed, it is an incontrovertible fact that all the complex and horrendous questions confronting us at home and worldwide have their answer in that single Book.

I -- But I just take just one more moment of your time. And maybe here Iím telling a little story that you perhaps have already seen. I donít know how it is being circulated. I only know that it came into my hands by way of a friend. It was a card, a single paragraph on that card, author unknown.

But the author was telling the story of a dream the author had had, a dream of walking on the beach beside the Lord, while all the scenes of his lifetime flashed in the heavens above, leaving the two pairs of footprints in the sand. And then as the final scene of his life was on the sky, he turned around and looked back at the path on the beach. And he saw that every once in a while, there was only one set of footprints. And he said that every time the one set of footprints came at the time when the scene in the sky was of -- of a terribly troublesome and despairing time in his life.

And he said,

Lord, you said that if I would follow you you would walk beside me; that I would always have your help. Why is it that in the times I needed you most, you left me and I see only one set of footprints?

And the Lord said,

My precious child, I would never leave you in your time of trouble. When you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

1 James Robison delivered an address at this gathering immediately prior to Mr. Reagan. Video of that address may be found here.

Research Note 2: Special thanks to Joseph Slife for suggesting this speech and for timely assistance in locating source materials for the transcript above.

Page Updated:4/12/2/22

U.S. Copyright Status: Text = Uncertain.
































Top 100 American Speeches

Online Speech Bank

Movie Speeches

© Copyright 2001-Present. 
American Rhetoric.
HTML transcription by Michael E. Eidenmuller.